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New Mexico’s unsung hero in the fight for women’s suffrage

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A former student of the New Mexico school system, I am grateful for the rich and rewarding education I received. What surprised me, however, was that it wasn’t until decades after graduation that I learned of the significant role Adelina “Nina” Otero-Warren played not only in the history of New Mexico, but also in women’s suffrage and politics. Her incredible impact on history was recently deeply recognized when she became the latest woman to appear on the quarter dollar as part of the US Mint’s American Women Quarters program.

Socialized among Santa Fe’s political and cultural elite, Otero-Warren was committed to securing women’s right to vote: suffrage. Her tireless efforts led her to chair the New Mexico branch of the National Women’s Party in 1917. During her tenure, she insisted that suffrage materials be published in English and Spanish in order to achieve the widest public and forcefully lobbied the state legislature to ratify the 19th Amendment. which he did on February 21, 1920.

Passionate about education, Otero-Warren was appointed superintendent of public schools in Santa Fe in 1917, and in 1922 she brought her strong state beliefs to the national stage as the first Hispanic woman to run for Congress, winning the Republican Party nomination. Although she lost the general election by a narrow margin, she continued her government work, serving as director of New Mexico literacy for the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and director of the Works Progress Administration in Puerto Rico the following decade.

Such impressive honors would be well known in school curricula if bestowed on a man, but women are vastly underrepresented in history textbooks. A report examining standards for the status of women in social studies in the United States found that female subjects are often an addendum to the main storyline and that these standards do not collectively address the breadth and depth of the women’s history. Rather, they focus on a minority of topics and groups and place a heavy emphasis on women in domestic roles.

History that does not recognize women’s contributions is incomplete. The American Women Quarters program is an important step toward recognizing historical figures who have been overlooked. There is an opportunity to explore more deeply how women’s history is taught and shared.

Nina Otero-Warren is one of many underrepresented Latinas in the narrative of the monumental battle for the right to vote — a fight that continued for many women of color long after the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920. The struggle for the vote is not ancient history. In fact, some suffragists who fought this battle before 1920 were alive when I was alive. Yet their stories are absent from contemporary accounts. As we chart our course, it is imperative to document and advocate for the representation and inclusion of women, not just in the history books, but wherever stories are told and decisions are made. Inclusive history is good history, and it’s happening now.

Jennifer Herrera, a native of Albuquerque, has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of New Mexico and a Master of Arts in Media Arts from the University of Arizona.